For nine years, Charles Braithwaite and his UNL students have been interacting with counterparts in Russia — but only through audio and video beamed over the Internet. In September, he’ll turn the tables as he teaches his popular Global Classroom curriculum from Tyumen State University in western Siberia.
Teaching the class from a new perspective is just one facet of Braithwaite’s four-week endeavor to Russia as a Fulbright Specialist. He’ll also be working with faculty and administrators at Tyumen State on further adapting the Global Classroom, which is a Communication Studies class that connects UNL students to countries around the world. Through the class, students interact face-to-face with their peers in countries such as Pakistan and Turkey.
“We’ve been working with Russia since 2009, and we really want to assess what new technology and pedagogy might be used to enhance our existing program,” he said.
Braithwaite applied for the Specialist Program with Tyumen State and the Global Classroom in mind and now has the opportunity to complete a project. He said the recent events in Crimea, in which the Russian Federation took control of the area of eastern Ukraine, and the subsequent regional unrest has pushed the trip back more than six months — so he is eager to get started.
The Fulbright Specialist Program awards grants to faculty approved to join the Specialist Roster in their selected discipline. Once selected, these professionals can participate in short-term collaborative projects with institutions in more than 140 countries. They remain on the roster for five years.
Braithwaite arrived in Russia on Aug. 29. During his stay, he plans a complete evaluation of the Global Classroom with Russian colleagues to ensure it is up to date in technology and curricula. He said he also hopes to branch the Global Classroom into other disciplines.
“I’ll be meeting with faculty and administrators and students in other programs besides communication to do a needs assessment to see if this could help them as well,” he said. “I’m always looking for opportunities to connect UNL to other parts of the world.”
Braithwaite, a faculty member in Communication Studies and assistant research professor in the University of Nebraska’s Center for Great Plains Studies, will use the Fulbright tour to network with plains researchers at Tyumen State. He said he hopes to form future collaborations with fellow plains researchers; the area where he will visit is similar to the Great Plains.
Braithwaite said he is proud of the engagement the Global Classroom has allowed for his students, and said he’s eager to try it out in Russia.
“It should enhance both my understanding of the Russian students and be an interesting experience for my students here,” he said.
Improving the Global Classroom’s reach and experience has been Braithwaite’s focus. In addition to Russia, he’s started partnerships with institutions in Yemen, Pakistan, Turkey, Spain and Costa Rica — all countries most students wouldn’t otherwise get to experience.
“The class enhances the students’ understanding of the difficulty of communicating across cultures, and it’s really expanded the students’ understanding of the global community that they are a part of,” he said.
“They also start seeing how many similarities there are, and when they encounter differences, they find ways to understand those differences and create a much more positive image than most of our students probably had previously.
“Their only encounters with other cultures are often 30-second sound bites on CNN.”
Braithwaite said he will work to leave an impact on his Russian colleagues, students during a unique time in world history.
“Things are a little tense right now and I think it makes it even more imperative that we have these classroom connections so students again, can get a perspective that isn’t filtered by the media,” he said.